OCEAN CITY — For the second time in as many years, a bill introduced in the General Assembly by Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38C) prohibiting the celebratory release of plastic and mylar balloons breezed through its House committee.
Hartman’s House Bill 391 would prohibit an individual, association, partnership, corporation, non-profit organization or any other group from knowingly and intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere. The intent of the legislation is to prohibit the intentional release of balloons at weddings, graduations and other ceremonies, which often end up in the ocean or other waterways can cause damage or even death to marine life.
Hartman introduced similar legislation last year and it breezed through the House Environment and Transportation Committee and was headed toward passage. When the session was cut short abruptly amid the COVID outbreak, the bill died on the table last year.
Hartman and five co-sponsors in the House brought the legislation back for the 2021 session. It has also been cross-filed in the Senate. On Wednesday, the House Environment and Transportation Committee advanced House Bill 391 with a 20-3 vote.
During it’s introduction, Hartman explained the legislation was nearly identical to the bill that came up a little short last year as the session timed out. If approved, it would create a civil infraction with a fine of $250 for each infraction and authorize certain agencies to enforce the legislation.
Hartman, who represents Ocean City and Worcester County, testified during the committee hearing about the great distances balloons can travel and the dangers they can cause to marine life when they end up in the ocean or other waterways.
“When a balloon is released, the best-case scenario is it becomes litter,” he said. “Oftentimes, it’s much worse. Mylar balloons can travel hundreds of miles for a period of over two weeks. They often land in the waterways, the ocean and the bays.”
Hartman testified how marine life can be impacted by released balloons that end up in the ocean and bays.
“Unfortunately, these are often confused as food for sea life and the ribbons and so forth can cause entanglement,” he said. “The outcome is often fatal for marine life.”
He referenced an effort three years ago by a pair of local siblings called Blume’s Balloon Roundup during which fisherman and boaters were encouraged to collect discarded balloons when they came across them in the waterways. The local fishing and boating community embraced the concept and enthusiastically pulled balloons from the water.
“In nine months, they collected over 2,800 balloons in the ocean and on the beaches,” he said. “That shows just how big the problem is.”
Hartman gave the committee first-hand testimony about his experiences with balloons in the ocean.
“These balloons are often found in large clusters in the ocean,” he said. “As somebody who spends a lot of time fishing offshore, I have to tell you it’s not uncommon to see a bundle of balloons, maybe as many as 25 in a bundle. Some of these balloons look very much like sea life when they’re floating.”
He also said it is not a problem unique to the waterways.
“The bill last year had a lot of support from the Farm Bureau,” he said. “It’s not only a problem in the water. We heard testimony about the entanglement of equipment and impacts to livestock and so forth.”
The House committee also heard testimony from various environmental advocacy groups and other stakeholders. With the favorable vote from the committee, the bill now advances to the full House. The sister legislation in the Senate was scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday.